Preterm, Full-Term & Post-Term Babies: What do they mean and what to expect?

For a pregnancy to be healthy, the gestational period is of utmost importance. If a baby is born after spending 38 weeks in the uterus, then the baby is said to have born after completing the gestational period. Such babies are considered to be normal babies with ideal height and weight.


But this may not be the case in reality. Some babies are born before completing the gestational period and some after the gestational period of 38 weeks. Such babies are termed as preterm and post-term babies respectively. 

Let us have a detailed look at what these terms mean.


Full-term baby


A full-term baby is one that is born between 37 and 42 weeks of the estimated due date. Such babies will typically weigh between 6 to 9 pounds and will be 46 cm to 56 cm tall. The head circumference of a full-term baby will be around 34 cm, and it grows to 38 cm by the end of the first month. The learning and behavioural pattern of such babies are normal unless they have other underlying medical complications. 


What to expect  


A full-term baby should have a normal and healthy growth throughout its infancy. The height and weight of the baby should be checked regularly to see whether it meets the standard. Such babies should achieve all growth milestone at the right time. 

  •   A full-term baby should be breastfed soon after the baby is born. The baby will have the strength to latch on to the nipple properly and suck milk, though during the initial days some help might be required. 
  •   Normal babies lose weight soon after birth. This is because babies are born with extra fluid, and the first few days after birth will witness fluid loss. 
  •   Babies normally lose hair a few days after birth. This loss is a normal process, and the hair would regrow in due course.  


Pre-term baby


If a baby is born less than 37 weeks of gestational age, the baby is said to be pre-term or premature. Such birth occurs due to many factors like vaginal infections, diabetes, high blood pressure and psychological stress. These babies are quite small when compared to full-term babies. The weight and size of the baby depends on the gestational age at the time of birth


What to expect


  •   If the baby is born between 28 to 31 weeks gestational age, the baby is likely to weigh 2-4 pounds. Such babies might require assistance to breathe. They are usually fed breast milk through a nasal tube. Some babies born during this gestational age can cry, and there is a greater chance of developing medical complications.
  •   Babies born during the 32 to 33 weeks gestational age are more likely to survive. They usually weigh between 3-5 pounds and few can breathe on their own. Some babies born during this stage are even able to breastfeed or bottle feed. Though medical complications are relatively less, such babies are more likely to develop learning and behavioural problems during a later stage. 
  •   Babies with a gestational age of 34 to 36 weeks are late preterm babies. They are more or less similar to full term babies though they may be smaller in size. Such babies weigh between 41/2 to 6 pounds, and they can develop slight complications initially like breathing and feeding difficulties. Once grown, such babies might develop subtle behavioural and learning problems. 


Post-term Baby


A baby born after 42 weeks of gestational age is called a post-term baby. There is no apparent reason for a baby to be born post-term. In most cases, it could be because of the error in calculating the due date. Babies born post-term will be long and weigh over 8 pounds. In a majority of the cases, a post-term baby is born healthy as it has completed the required gestational age. 


What to expect


  •   A post-term baby will have dry and peeling skin and long hair.
  •   Such babies will have long nails both in hands and legs. 
  •   Since the baby’s body is large, there will be difficulty delivering the baby normally.  
  •   There are chances for fractured bone or nerve injury owing to the large size of the baby. 

In order to overcome the above complications, doctors do not wait beyond the 42 weeks of gestational period. Once the due date is over, pain is induced to facilitate delivery. 


There was a time when pre-term and post-term babies hardly used to survive. But this is not the case nowadays. Due to the advancement of medical science, even babies as young as 22 weeks gestational age has fought the battle and survived. The neonatal units of hospitals are equipped to handle even the tiniest of babies. Thus, even if the baby is born prematurely, there is no need to worry as there is a higher chance for the baby to survive. 

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